Chapter 3: Beneath the Surface

3:3 Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart.

3:4 Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man.

      The term "tablet" is the same word used for the "tables" or "tablets" of stone which were inscribed with the Ten Commandments. Our verse doesn't say whether this tablet was made of stone or clay.
      Writing appears almost simultaneously in Egypt and Mesopotamia around 3000BC, with the Egyptians writing on both stone monuments and papyrus in hieroglyphics while the Babylonians writing on clay tablets in cuneiform. These tablets were small, handheld and inscribed – generally on both sides – while the tablet was still pliable.
      But inscribed clay tablets are really not known among the Israelites from Solomon's day. So this verse was probably speaking of an inscribed stone tablet which would have been a very permanent process creating a very permanent item.
      Yet, we find only a few such artifacts in excavations from the Holy Land. Presumably, the average Israelite did not do this kind of thing very often. But all would have been familiar with the stone tablets of the Ten Commandments. This verse seems to speak of something "set in stone" (to use another modern wise saying) and permanent. For the "necklace" in this verse, see the note at 1:9.

Clay tablets inscribed with cuneiform text from Tell el-Amarna, Egypt dating to the 14th century BC. None over 5 inches long, they were diplomatic correspondence between the Pharaoh of Egypt and his vassal kings in Canaan. An important topic in a number of these texts is an ancient group of people creating havoc in Canaan during the time of the Judges. It sounds very much like the Israelites settling on the Promised Land, from a Canaanite perspective.

3:9 Honor the LORD with your wealth, with the firstfruits of all your crops;

3:10 then your barns will be filled to overflowing, and your vats will brim over with new wine.

      The Old Testament "barn" of verse 10 would not be what we think today. For the average Israelite family, their "barn" was a pit cut into the solid bedrock beneath their house. These subterranean storage pits are often called "silos" in archaeology, almost the exact opposite of the above-ground constructions we call silos today. But, like their modern counterparts, these ancient silos also tended to hold grain. Smaller silos may have simply been the container for the grain, itself, while larger silos would have held jars which contained the grain. We have excavated one of each at Khirbet el-Maqatir, our dig site in the West Bank of Israel.
      The "vat" of this verse is the holding tank for the fresh juice coming from a wine press. Similar to the barn/silo, it was also cut into the surface of the solid bedrock, although not generally within the house complex. The juice was ladled out into a jar for drinking or storage (and fermentation). Years ago, I excavated one of those at Maqatir, myself.

3:13 Blessed is the man who finds wisdom, the man who gains understanding, ;

3:14 for she is more profitable than silver and yields better returns than gold.

3:15 She is more precious than rubies; nothing you desire can compare with her.

      While silver was first mentioned in 2:16, this is the first mention of gold. These precious metals were generally mentioned together in Proverbs (3:14; 8:10, 19; 16:16; 17:3; 22:1; 25:11; 27:21). Both were well-known and appreciated by the ancients and appear early in the Bible story.
      Gold is first mentioned in the Bible in Genesis 2:11-12 (also the pre-Flood world), while silver is first mentioned along with gold as being some of the wealth of Abram in Genesis 13:2 (the post-Flood world). "Rubies" (also 8:11; 20:15; 31:10) are also mentioned in this passage. We do not have a certain translation for this Hebrew word. Whatever it was exactly, it appeared to have been mineral in nature and definitely valuable.

3:18 She is a tree of life to those who embrace her; those who lay hold of her will be blessed.

      The "tree of life" symbol seems to have been popular across the ancient world. Numerous depictions of stylized trees identified in excavations have been suggested be to that culture's version of the tree of life. These sacred or magical trees are generally depicted in association with a deity or flanked by two animals. While the phrase "tree of life" may be an appropriate term for these ancient scenes, they are, at best, an ancient religious corruption of the "tree of life" in the Bible.